Many people wanting a firearm for home defense opt for the shotgun.
There are good points and bad points to a shotgun, and some "watch-outs" that can make them less effective.
The shotgun as a home defense has big advantages in power to stop an attack, a higher chance of hitting the target in the hallway at 3:00 am, and most of all the speed at which you can get devastating hits.
More than any other firearm the shotgun is fast when used with buckshot.
While a rifle or pistol shooter is still aligning his sights, and getting them on target, the shotgunner has already solved that problem and has moved on.
People not familiar with a combat shotgunner and have seen one in action are astounded at how fast a good gunner can run a combat course.
A major advantage of the defense shotgun is how easily adaptable it and it's ammunition can be.
By changing barrels, accessories, and ammo, the shotgun can go from a quail gun to a Kodiak bear gun, to an adaptable home defense gun that can be set up for any possible situation.
The major reason for the shotgun being such a fight stopper is the devastating effect of the shot charge and the speed at which it can be delivered on target.
For these reasons, the defense shotgun is the deadliest close range firearm in the world.
Some downsides to the shotgun are the size (usually), excessive recoil and muzzle blast, difficulty in maneuvering the gun inside a house, limited magazine capacity (usually), and the possibility that an attacker might be able to deflect or take the longer gun away from you.
Unlike other firearms, the shotgun is pointed, not precision aimed when using buckshot.
Yes, the shotgun is aimed at the target but as a close-range weapon, it's more used as an instinctively aimed gun where sights are not precisely aligned on target.
Even with shotguns fitted with sights, at typical home defense ranges the sights are used more as a "flash" sight picture by looking over them.
Many home defense shotguns come with a plain bead front sight and no rear sight.
In instinctive "pointed" shotgun use, the bead is the front sight and the shooters eye is the "rear sight".
Any shotgunner who's hunted game birds or shot clay pigeons is completely familiar with how the shotgun is instinctively aimed by pointing the gun, not precision sighted with some sort of actual front and rear sights.This instinctive pointing method is why the shotgun is so quick on target compared to precisely aimed rifles and pistols.
Even the electronic dot sights are usually slower to use with a shotgun, which is why you seldom ever see one in a duck blind or on a trap or skeet range. So, in the home defense shotgun "Speed kills....the bad guy".
"Aiming" the shotgun is still necessary even at the close ranges typically found inside a home. A good rule of thumb is that a cylinder bore shotgun pattern will open up about one inch for every one yard. Inside most homes that means the shot is typically going to be in about a six-inch circle.
By cutting a six-inch circle out of paper and taping it up at the longest distance inside the home, you can see just how easy it could be to flat out miss.
Unlike Hollywood, the shotgun doesn't blow out a 10-foot-wide glass store window from the curb.
In general, just like a rifle, if the butt isn't in your shoulder and you're not aiming or properly pointing the gun you're probably not going to get reliable hits, so unlike in the movies you can't just casually point the shotgun in the general direction of a target and expect everything within 100 yards to be blown ten feet back.
RANGE TOY OR REAL DEFENSE GUN?
The first step in selecting a shotgun is to sit down and think about whether what you really want is a range toy to play with and impress your buddies, or if you want a Real-World defense gun. There is a rather indistinct line between the two.
The second step is to think about what the most likely home defense situation you might face would be, then set up a shotgun that will best meet that threat.
A third is what shotgun shells to use.
Making these decisions calls for being totally honest with yourself about the facts. Too many people essentially lie to themselves about these questions and that self-delusion can cause serious, even fatal results.
If what you really want is a range gun or toy to play with, the gun itself and how it's set up is not very important. You can pick guns and accessories not suitable for defense use at will and load the gun up with whatever you want, from all sorts of sighting systems, bayonets, and mass external ammo storage. Weight, bulk, and complexity are not an issue on a Range Toy.
If you like an accessory go for it.
However, on a real-world home defense gun anything you add to a basic shotgun adds weight, bulk, and complexity, all of which will slow down how fast the gun can be used.
This is where self-honesty comes in.
What you have to do is a real-world cost-benefit analysis of every addition or change to determine if the accessory really is a benefit or not, and to determine if the benefit is worth the loss in speed.
Everyone has their own idea of what accessories a home defense shotgun should have, and some are commonly stated as "necessary". What you need to do is to decide if an addition is really a necessity for you.
If you add an accessory or make a change simply because it's recommended, you'll all too often wind up with a gun that's less effective because it's slower to get on target.
A magazine extension sounds like a great idea because who doesn't want more available ammo?
A white light is often considered a necessity so the gun can be used in a dark room.
The question you must honestly ask is: Does a specific change or addition and the accompanying complexity going to really offer a genuine benefit and is it worth the loss in speed?
You must do this for each change or addition no matter how minor it is.
The classic defense shotgun is simply a plain commercial gun with a short barrel.
Everything you add to that has a cost.
Only you can decide if there is a benefit that's worth the cost.
It's at that line between cost-benefit that things can either break down or enhance the chances of surviving. This means reality has to overcome "Just because I want it".
We've all seen the pictures or guns at the range so loaded down with accessories you wonder how the user can even lift it. You may notice the owner fumbling with all the accessories that have added so much complexity they're spending most of the time adjusting things or trying to decide which sight to use instead of shooting.
A classic example of an overly complex firearm are the M4 Carbines seen on secure bases in the "Sand Wars" in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The fighters who see actual combat outside the wire have rifles that have the bare minimum of accessories, just enough to do the job. They laugh at the "Fobbit's" who stay behind the wire and add every possible accessory they can to their rifles.
This has often reached the point of being status symbols to see who can have the most equipped rifle, as they swagger around the base.
If one gets sent out from the wire they soon begin shedding accessories from the rifles as they realize their weapon is too heavy, too bulky, and too complex. Not only do they have to carry the load, the rifle likely won't save their life in an emergency and that's when reality hits home.
What to add or drop becomes the real world cost-benefit analysis. The home defense shotgunner also must do this.
Along with this analysis is just plain common sense.
Do you seriously think a bayonet or some KSG spikes would be a useful addition?
Considering a door breacher muzzle attachment? Under exactly what situation do you think blowing hinges and locks off your home's doors would be needed?
Do you even have any of the special door breaching shotguns shells?
How are you going to practice blowing doors?
Are the weird shotgun shells sold by fly-by-night companies like the "Dragon's Breath" or shot pellets connected by wired going to be useful, or "non-lethal" rubber pellets going to save you?
Shotgun shells loaded with flechettes were tried in Vietnam and failed. Do you want to risk them?
Imagine sitting in a courtroom explaining to a judge and jury all about how you bayoneted or burned someone alive, while they're all looking at you like you're wearing an Adolph Hitler uniform.
The next step is to decide what the most likely defense situation might be for your circumstances.
How a shotgun is set up and what kind of ammunition is selected varies considerably depending on the risk you may face.
Setting up a defense gun for an extended shoot-out with a biker gang making a mass assault on your home, when you live in an apartment next door to the police station probably will not meet the actual need.
This is a matter of looking at local crime reports, reading the monthly NRA Armed Citizen reports, talking to local law enforcement, and just looking at your living arrangements to see what the most likely form trouble will take where you live.
One of the shotguns major advantages is how adaptable it is. It has a chameleon-like ability to morph to fit the need.
As an example of how a defense shotgun and ammo set up changes depending on the circumstances would be my own case a few years ago.
We were living in a small house in a small "safe" town. The area was well lit at night from street lights and lights on a church and business. There were alert neighbors close on both sides and an impassible hill in back. The local police station was literally in sight and response time was a matter of less than a minute when 911 was called. When trouble came it would almost certainly come on foot and would likely be no more than two unarmed people.
The most likely situation would be someone walking up to the house and attempting to break in. At worst, one or two shots might be needed, with the police arriving almost immediately.
At the time, I had a Remington 870P Police shotgun with factory rifle sights on the barrel. It had the standard 4 shot magazine and was loaded with #1 buckshot.
I chose #1 buckshot because of the superior ballistics against human targets and as a compromise to limit the possibility of endangering the neighbors.
Because of the situation that set up was appropriate for the probable circumstances.
We decided that we could no longer take care of a house, so we sold it and prepared to move to an apartment in another, larger and less "safe" town.
The house sold sooner than the apartment was ready so we temporarily moved to a house trailer on a relative's isolated farm for a couple of months.
The situation changed radically.
The farm was miles away from any town, the closest neighbors were well over a mile away, and Sheriff or Highway Patrol response time was as much as 45 minutes or more, depending on where they happened to be in the county at the time, and there was no light at all.
If trouble came it would come in a vehicle, and based on recent incidents, it would be two to four people driving up a long driveway late at night and they would very probably be armed with pistols. Reports indicated that the local criminal element had no problem with shooting at people confronting them.
To meet the new situation the set up for the 870 changed.
A +2 magazine extension and clamp was installed to give 7 rounds.
A spare shell holder was mounted on the stock.
A flashlight was mounted to the barrel.
The ammo was a "Dutch load" of #00 buckshot and slugs.
A canvas bag with spare shells, a large flashlight, a pistol and spare magazines, and a cell phone was kept with the gun.
The most likely violent encounter would be confronting the vehicle, with any shooting starting out with #00 buckshot against exposed intruders, followed by slugs as they took cover behind their vehicle.
The gun was loaded so that the first three shells fired would be #00 buckshot, followed by slugs.
Since I would be on my own for up to 45 minutes the spare ammo and a backup pistol were needed if it turned into an extended standoff. The gun's light would probably be needed to flash illuminate targets and a spare flashlight in the bag in case the gun's light failed.
The cell phone would allow me to contact the sheriff's office and call for medical help.
After looking the area over I identified several places where I would have cover and concealment while they would be exposed on the gravel road with no cover other than their vehicle, and nothing close by where they could move to without being wide open to return fire.
After the new apartment was ready we moved in and the new situation was quite different.
The town is larger, and there are pockets of neighborhoods scattered all over the south and central parts of town that are very unsafe.There's been a low-level drug war going on and gang activity both from locals and visitors from bigger cities.
Murders and shootings occur on a near monthly basis, and most nights I can listen to gunshots in the near distance.
The apartment is part of an area filled with a county medical office, a drug rehab center, housing for elderly and handicapped people, and a handicapped school. The entire area is lit like daylight.
There is a bad neighborhood starting a block away, but they tend to stay in that area. Crime in this small area is relatively rare.
If trouble came it would be on foot, and probably no more than two people.
It would most likely be a burglary attempt.
Due to the bad area so close, the city police have cars constantly on patrol in the immediate area. Average response times are around two minutes and the police tend to be very tough, proactive cops who just live to catch these bums.
The gun's set up changed back to the standard 4 shot magazine to lighten the gun and increase the speed of use. No light was needed. Spare ammo would not likely be needed since the local burglars tend to run at the first sign of an occupant.
The shells changed to #4 buckshot to limit risk to close apartments.
As the above illustrates, one of the biggest advantages of the shotgun is how adaptable it is to meet changing needs. Sometimes the situation requires a change in the gun itself.
Increasingly strangers are knocking on doors for a variety of reasons, and it's difficult to answer the door late at night while holding a standard shotgun, much less firing it if needed.
For that reason, I upgraded to a Kel-Tec KSG shotgun. I added an Archangel auxiliary sight and did a "fluff and buff" job on the action to smooth the operation and largely eliminate any short stroking of the action.
While it's not possible to fully operate the gun with one hand, it is possible to fire the first round, so this makes possible answering a late-night knock on the door and still being ready with a major surprise for any trouble.
I just now (2020) upgraded again, this time to a Kel-Tec KS7 shotgun.
The only changes were to do a "fluff & buff" to smooth operation, and added sling swivels and a sling.
The gun as-is is perfect and needs no aftermarket sights or accessories.
The ammunition chosen right now due to the unavailability of much of any defense type ammo is 1 3/4 inch Aguilla Mini-shells loaded with 4 pellets of #1 buckshot and 7 pellets of #4 buckshot. This is all the local dealers had in stock when I bought the gun.
Many/most Kel-Tec shotguns will reliably function with these, but as soon as possible I'll switch to Remington Reduced Recoil #4 buckshot in standard 2 3/4 inch shells.
There's a lot of dispute about defense shotgun shells.
Some people insist that larger birdshot is deadly and leaves a huge, gaping, bloody hole. It does. It leaves a huge gaping bloody SHALLOW hole.
Birdshot simply lacks the ability to reliably penetrate to the necessary 11 to 13 inches needed to reach vital organs. This is especially the case if the person is wearing a heavy winter coat or leather jacket.
You'll hear all sorts of cases of people shot dead with fine birdshot, but these are anomalies. Suffice to say that no law enforcement or military will allow the use of birdshot because of proven ineffectiveness.
I recently was able to talk to an emergency room doctor who works in a notorious inner-city hospital.
This is the type of hospital no one in their right mind goes to for standard medical care, but is exactly where you want to go if you've been shot or stabbed because they get so much experience in treating these wounds.
He told me that in his extensive experience, a patient who comes in having been shot with birdshot will almost always live to walk out again.
A patient hit with buckshot virtually never survives.
In order to be reliably effective, you need a larger shot, with #4 buckshot being about as small as any real expert will recommend although there's some data that the very large birdshot in the BB and #2 range, especially in the newer Heavy Shot types may be effective enough in a small house or apartment setting
By far the most common is #00 buckshot, with #1 buckshot considered to be the ideal ballistic compromise between the more shot of #4 and the penetration of #00.
Today, due to smaller men and women entering law enforcement many departments and defense gun owners are using reduced recoil shotguns shells.
These reduce the pounding recoil of buckshot by either reducing the number of pellets, reducing the powder charge, or both. This makes handling the gun much easier, reduces flinching, and increases the speed of follow up shots while maintaining the effectiveness.
The new Mini-shells as made by Aguila and Federal are interesting, but reliability is lacking in almost all shotguns, although there is a conversion made for the Mossberg guns, and the Kel-Tec guns often work well.
If considering these, it's critical that you shoot enough to absolutely verify that your specific gun will function 100% with them.
The sole advantages of the mini-shells are less recoil and more shells in the gun.
IF your specific gun is PROVEN reliable with them, then that's an obvious option.
However, the Reduced or Lower recoil shells are almost always 100% reliable in any gun, and the recoil and muzzle blast are the same as the mini-shells.
Don't make the mistake of trading reliability for more shells unless you shoot enough to be certain your gun won't choke on a mini-shell just when you need it most.
Slugs have somewhat limited utility in a home defense gun due to the need for precise aiming, and the higher risk of a slug penetrating walls, even to the outside. However, they do have a place if the user understands the cautions and has usable sights on the gun, or if your living situation is that you may need to shoot at much longer distances.
Keep in mind that a slug turns the shotgun into a rather accurate musket at the expense of the need for precise aiming.
For the most part, Magnum shells don't have much of a real advantage in a home defense gun and the increased recoil is a distinct disadvantage. Magnum shells are available in standard 2 3/4 inch, 3 inches, and in special guns, 3 1/2 inch "Super Magnums. Recoil and muzzle blast are excessive and cause flinching and slower follow up shots.
Remember that it's the shotguns speed on target that's a major advantage.
Some people seem to have no problem handling the recoil of the 3 inch Magnum but most have difficulty with even the 2 3/4 inch Magnum loads.
In shotgun shells Magnum doesn't really mean more power like it does in Magnum rifle and pistol ammunition, it means more shot.
At home defense ranges Magnum ammunition is rather a case of over-kill. In practical use, the difference in fight stopping abilities between standard buckshot loads and Magnum is largely not discernible.
To quote a famed founding member of the US Navy SEALS, James "Patches" Watson when people asked him if the then-Navy standard #4 buckshot used in Vietnam was too light to be effective, Watson replied, "No one I ever shot complained".
At the typical home defense ranges standard or reduced recoil shells are more than effective enough. The truth is, there is no commercially available shotgun ammunition more effective than standard buckshot or slugs.
SHOTGUN TYPESFor home defense, shotguns tend to fall into the double barrel, pump action, semi auto, and non-standard designs.
These have been commercial designs with no military developed shotguns adopted in the US.
THE DOUBLE BARREL.The double barrel, break-open gun has the advantage of being shorter overall than the same barrel length on a pump or semi-auto. It has a simple manual of arms and is fast to reload. If it has double triggers it's basically two guns put together so if one side fails to work, the other one usually will.
The downside is unless it's an exposed hammer gun you can't safely leave the barrels loaded because the action will be cocked, and you only get two shots.
Securing the double can be difficult due to most safety locks not working well with the design. Unfortunately, these days most double guns suited to defense use are usually cheap quality guns. However, just like in the 1870's the double barrel can still deliver the goods if you understand the limits.
A variation of the double is the single barrel break open.
This has the advantages of the double, but the disadvantage of offering only one shot.
Unless you simply don't have access to a better gun the single is a poor choice.
The only single barrel advantage is the rock bottom price they sell at.
Double Barrel Coach GunThe old budge bolt action shotgun is usually not considered as a defense gun due to the slow operation.
THE BOLT ACTION
It can be a defense gun, but again, there are superior designs readily available.
Like the single barrel gun, the bolt action advantage is the low cost, and not much more.
PUMP ACTION.The pump action shotgun has been the standard police, military and civilian defense shotgun since 1897.
Look in virtually any police, sheriff, State trooper, or Federal law enforcement car and you'll find a pump shotgun, usually a Remington 870P.
The pump gun has a lot going for it.
As long as you're practiced with it operation is almost totally reliable.
Durability is unexcelled, and simplicity of operation is almost instinctive.
It's very safe to store and transport, but still be in ready to use condition.
Magazine capacity ranges from 4 to as much as 10 shots, depending on the use of magazine extensions and longer barrels.
Maintenance is simple and easy, and the gun will continue functioning with virtually no care at all.
Navy SEAL James Watson carried an Ithaca Model 37 shotgun in his multiple tours in Vietnam and he said that even totally fouled with mud all that was necessary to get it working again was a swish in the nearest stream or canal.
Most people keep the pump gun in what is known to police as "cruiser ready"..... the magazine fully loaded, and the action uncocked on the empty chamber.
All that's needed to ready the gun is to pump the handle.
There are a number of locking devices made to secure a pump gun on a wall to prevent theft or to make them child-proof.
There are some new models made by Remington and others that are pump guns, but use a detachable box magazine.
These offer a faster reload, but at the expense of the long magazine sticking out from the bottom.
Remington 870P Police gun.The semi-auto shotgun has been around since the very early 1900's but only recently is it becoming more popular in police and military use.
The semi-auto offers reduced felt recoil and increased firing speed. It has much the same advantages of the pump gun, but it requires more maintenance to remain reliable.
Pump shotguns can have the barrel shortened easily, but some semi-autos may not function well if the barrel is cut down to defense length. Often defense versions of semi-auto guns are specially set up to use shorter barrels.
The downside is that even the best semi-auto shotgun can't quite match the reliability of the pump gun.
The semi-auto shotgun is also somewhat more awkward to ready for action since you have to pull back the charging handle to chamber the first round.
Browning A5 Semi-Auto "Riot" gunOne downside to both the pump and semi-auto is compression bulging of the shells.
Many people think the weak part of a tubular magazine shotgun is the magazine spring weakening.
This may happen in older pre-war shotguns but modern metallurgy insures that springs maintain strength long term. In fact, the most common problem, especially in extended magazine guns is that when kept loaded for extended times the constant pressure of the magazine spring against the shells can cause the shells to start to compress and bulge between the case head and the shot.
This can cause failures to chamber or extract.
This seems to be more pronounced in police guns when kept in upright locking racks and in the summer heat in a bouncing patrol car.
Strangely, some people keep shotgun magazines loaded for years and never see the problem.
I once loaded a Remington 870 Wingmaster with a magazine extension with some Federal #1 buckshot shells, and when I inspected the gun two months later the shells were bulging.
All that can be done is to shoot the shells in practice because once the shells start to bulge it will continue even if removed from the magazine and "rested". Once put back in the magazine the bulging picks up where it left off. This is a problem easily avoided by using premium quality American shotshells, and by inspecting them periodically.
NON-STANDARD SHOTGUNS.Non-standard types of shotguns have begun appearing on the market, and have a lot to offer.
Among these are shotgun versions of the AK-47 rifle, and the new bullpup shotguns, notably Standard Products DP-12 double barrel-double magazine pump gun, the now-discontinued Mossberg Bullpup 500, the long discontinued High Standard Model 10A and 10B semi-autos, the rather bulky UTS 15, and the excellent Kel-Tec KSG double magazine pump gun and the new Kel-Tec KS7 pump gun.
There's even the Bullpup Designs conversion kit that converts a standard Remington 870 or Mossberg 500 series to a bullpup format and allows converting it back again easily.
The bullpup designs may be the wave of the future in defense shotguns due to the greatly reduced length, which still offers a full-length barrel and legal overall length.
The small size combined with the large capacity magazines make them a hard act to beat.
Unlike odd-ball designs like the revolving cylinder Striker designs of the late 80's, today's bullpup guns have very viable designs that function well.
There are a number of non-standard designs being made overseas, but due to Federal laws, they can't be imported into the USA.
The compact size makes a bullpup an ideal shotgun for home defense by eliminating the problem of a long gun that can be more easily wrestled away. While you can't fire more than the first shot with a pump action bullpup, they are far easier to maneuver around tight areas, and the first shot can be fired with one hand in an emergency.
This allows necessary movement around a dwelling, opening doors, and maneuvering, while holding the gun, ready to fire with one hand.
Of the currently available bullpup shotguns, the Kel-Tec KSG and the KS7 are the clear winners.
The Kel-Tec guns, especially the KS7 are mature designs with none of the quirky features or operation of most others.
I expect most of the other current bullpup designs to fade from the market but the Kel-Tec's to be the default choice for shotgun users.
The KSG is in use by a South Korean Special Ops unit, the White Tigers, by the French R.A.I.D. counter terrorist force, and by some US prison guard units.
The KSG, and probably the KS7 are in the inventories of US Special Operations units for special situations.
The Kel-Tec KSG and the KS7. The state of the artA recent hot gun on the market are the new "non-shotgun shotguns" being sold by Mossberg and Remington.
These are basically commercial versions of the Remington 870P U.S. Marshal Witness Protection Program shotgun with at this time Remington also making a version in a semi-auto.
These guns have 14-inch barrels and a "birds head" rounded rear grip with no stock.
These guns are essentially rule beater guns that have found a way around Federal laws on short barrel, short length shotguns. These are not made as "shotguns", and so can be legally sold in most states, but not all.
These can make an effective home defense, close range gun, but they have to be actively practiced with to ensure getting hits on target. Since they have no stock and a rounded off rear grip, they can't be fired like a shoulder gun, and certainly can't be fired like a pistol. While Mossberg recommends firing the gun "from the hip", in fact, they should be fired while held with both hands from about the chest level.
Contrary to popular belief, you can indeed have a clear miss with a shotgun inside the typical home, and these guns require a lot of practice to insure getting effective hits.
The Remington 870 Tac-14.
So, if you carefully pick a defense gun and shotshells that fit your specific situation and needs, and avoid the urge to over-accessorize the gun, you can have the deadliest close-range firearm in the world to defend your home and family.And, due to its ability to quickly transform you can have a fun range gun, a sporting gun for clays, and even a hunting gun and still return it to its defense gun form at will.